By John Helmer
AN announcement last week by government officials in Harare that a Russian group has signed a pledge to invest US$300 million in Zimbabwe’s mining,
power, and aviation sectors is unsupported by the Russian side, and may even be a hoax. On the other hand, the past history of Russian visitors to Harare suggests that RusAviaTrade may be the camouflage for something more serious that is yet to be disclosed, South African mining journal MineWeb reports.
“These MOUs (memorandums of understanding) are worth US$300 million, but we hope we will develop our relations so that we bring more investments into the country,” Yury Panchenko, external affairs director of RusAviaTrade, was quoted by wire services as saying after the signing ceremony. The investment pledge wound up a visit reported to include 31 Russian businessmen and 17 journalists, who had been invited by Gideon Gono, governor of the central bank. Ambassador to Moscow, Phelekezela Mphoko, has refused to identify the names of the Russian delegation members, or their company affiliations.
Russian Ambassador to Harare, Oleg Scherbak, also declined to respond to the same questions from MineWeb. According to the Zimbabwe media, he reportedly said: “These investors have various business interests ranging from transport, power and mining to tourism, telecommunications and agriculture.”
In Moscow, Panchenko’s company is so small, it is unknown to the major aircraft builders located at Zhukovskiy, the Moscow suburban aviation centre. Sources at Renova, the Russian mining group most active in southern Africa, said RusAviaTrade is unknown.
Renova owns an unrelated company called RusAviaAuto, a bus operator at a small airport Renova owns. RusAvia told MineWeb that, despite the similarity in name, it has never heard of RusAviaTrade. RusAvia says it operates only within Russia, repairing World War II-vintage aircraft, and publishing books and magazines for Russian plane enthusiasts. A company source said RusAvia has a representative in India, but it has never been to Zimbabwe.
RusAviaTrade has no website, and two telephones listed at its identified office do not work. The company has been identified through the Russian Centre of Small Aviation Omega, where officials confirmed that RusAviaTrade is their subsidiary. Omega says it operates small aircraft for joyrides around the Moscow region. It also claims to sell Cessna, Piper, and Beechcraft imports, and to enable novice Russian fliers to attend local and European flying schools and receive European pilot accreditation.
“Flying with us,” Omega’s website declares, “you become the pilot of a private plane. You will get acquainted with very interesting people, the surprisingly fine world of aircraft, and you will expand your horizons.” — MineWeb (SA).